This is a true story.
Mindanao smells like no place I have ever been to. I had come to the Philippines to meet veteran missionary, Bruce Wilson and to witness first hand his Child Support Program.
“This is where Virgie lives with her family.”
A series of Third World roads had brought us to a small, coastal village about an hour from the capital. I was about to meet the young girl our church paid $30 a month to support.
“Brother Wilson, welcome!”
“William, I want you to meet Pastor Solomon and his wife, Rachel.” My host introduced the young couple who had obviously been waiting for our arrival.
“G’day mate,” they laughed with genuine delight.
“That’s all the Australian they know,” Bruce explained bemused.
Virgie’s home was a single room on stilts. As we entered the property I noticed a young girl clutching a very tired, middle aged woman. Behind them a young boy was doing his best to look brave. Somewhere a baby was softly crying itself to sleep.
“Thank you for allowing me to visit.” Pastor Solomon’s wife translated my words. I placed a dozen meat rolls on the table. These were luxuries the family could never afford.
What happened next is still a bit of a mystery. Suddenly, an old lady burst through the door and shuffled across the room toward me. Taking my hand in hers she pressed it against her forehead and screeched in a loud voice.
“What is she saying?” I asked.
Bruce Wilson shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “She’s saying you are a mighty man of God.”
Grasping a bread roll the intruder started chewing with the few teeth she possessed. All the while Pastor Solomon’s and his wife glared at the intruder and muttered angrily.
“What’s going on?” I turned helplessly to my host.
“No one knows who she is,” Bruce sighed.
I watched her finish in stunned silence. Then the old woman stood, snatched another roll from the table and left; but not before hissing her contempt at Solomon and Rachel.
In the silence that followed my host took the opportunity to ask the family about the absent member.
“Virgie’s father has been missing for two weeks,” he explained.
“He was working in the mines. There was an accident. Two hundred people are unaccounted for.”
Soon we were navigating the treacherous roads back to Davao City
“I’m very fond of Solomon.” Bruce Wilson said in a reflective mood. “His Uncle was the pastor before the Separatists murdered him.”
“Why would they do that?” I asked.
“He prayed for the Government,” my colleague laughed mirthlessly. “’We can fight your soldiers but we cannot fight your prayers,’” they told us.”
I was genuinely shocked.
“So Solomon picked up his bible college notes and stood in the burnt out church and preached to empty seats,” he continued. “The following week two people turned up.”
“How many people come now?” I asked.
“The church is full.”
Later that night I flew back to Manila. As I sat peering out into the darkness my mind was spinning with all that I had seen. It would be three days before I heard from Bruce Wilson again.
“Excuse me, Sir,” the young lady stood at my door with her eyes cast down. “There is a phone call for you.”
A thousand miles away my new friend shouted to be heard over the static.
“Bruce, how are you, mate?” I was genuinely pleased to hear his voice.
“We found him!” There was no mistaking his sense of joy.
“Virgie’s father,” Bruce laughed. “He made it home.”
“I’m going to organize a micro loan,” Bruce continued. “He wants to get out of the mines so I’m setting him up with a bicycle taxi.”
“How much will that cost?” I asked.
I opened my wallet and counted the unused travelers cheques.
“Bruce, I’m going to send you the money. OK?”
There was a pause. “Are you sure?”
I spent more on restaurants in a month.
“Yes I am, Bruce.” I said. “I’m a very rich man.”
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